Located along Ludington’s main street, Ludington Avenue, Cartier Mansion Bed & Breakfast is a luxury retreat on the National Register of Historic Places. Nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan, Ludington is just 95 miles north of Grand Rapids, Michigan’s second-largest city. If you’re road-tripping and coming from the west, start in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Then, grab a ride on the SS Badger across Lake Michigan. The car ferry is the last coal-fired passenger steamship in the nation. The SS Badger alone makes for a new adventure. Coming by plane? Gerald R. Ford International Airport makes flying in a breeze.
Warren Cartier’s father, Antoine, was one of the area’s first lumber barons. Warren grew up in the Victorian house across the street from today’s bed and breakfast. He attended Notre Dame and returned to Ludington with a degree in civil engineering. After college, he went into the lumber business with his father. Both Cartier men were prominent in the community, serving as mayors and owning the town’s first telephone company, banks, and other businesses.
In Ludington during the late 1800s, Victorian architecture, with its complicated structures, was on-trend along Ludington Avenue. But Warren Cartier was a modern-thinking man. He went to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where he discovered the Columbian Exposition, a display of European-style homes with historical interpretations. These homes trended toward revivalist architecture, a modern Neoclassical look, with features like Corinthian pillars and wrap-around front porches. They inspired Warren to begin construction on his Neoclassical revivalist mansion in November of 1903. After 18 months of construction, Warren, his wife Kate, and their three sons moved into their new home in May of 1905.
History buffs will find the six Mason County Cultural Trails an exciting look into local history. For example, the Lumber Heritage Trail highlights the importance of lumber in Ludington, emphasizing the lumber barons and their stories. You’ll find lumber baron Warren Cartier’s home on the trail.
Chris and Jenna Simpler are the fourth owners and currently operate the property. Here are seven reasons to visit.
Thank you to Pure Ludington for hosting my visit. All opinions are my own.
1. Location Near A Wide Variety Of Area Activities
Beach bums, art lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and history buffs will all find something they’ll love in Ludington. The Cartier Mansion Bed and Breakfast is within walking distance to the beach, local shopping, and restaurants. However, you will want a car to explore Ludington State Park. First, the 5,300-acre park offers 21.5 miles of hiking trails. Then, if you’re up for an almost 4-mile accessible and leveled round-trip walk, explore the Big Sable Point Lighthouse. Alternatively, investigate the schedule of bus days throughout the summer when you can ride to the lighthouse.
2. Luxury Touches
I had to ask about the towels since they were the softest I’d ever experienced. I discovered they used Monarch towels. In addition to the luxury bedding and chocolates on my nightstand, I was excited to learn many items I might typically bring along on vacation were available for use during my stay. That meant I didn’t need to pack beach towels, beach chairs, and vintage lawn games. Touring bicycles and rainy day activities were all at the ready.
You’ll also find a keyless entry, high-speed Wi-Fi, and smart TVs.
3. The Three-Course Breakfast
Cartier Mansion Bed and Breakfast has arguably the best breakfast in Ludington. Unfortunately, to sample chef-owner Chris Simpler’s three-course breakfast, you must reserve a room for the night at Cartier Mansion Bed and Breakfast. But you’ll be happy you did. The breakfast rivals that of any four-star restaurant.
The first course features a beverage, like a coconut carrot karma sipper or a raspberry champagne Bellini. The second course highlights a grain. Saturday, it was a bowl of ancient grains topped with cardamom apples, and Sunday, baked oatmeal bananas Foster. Finally, the entrée is a Belgium waffle with berries, whipped cream, and hardwood smoked bacon. On the second day, blueberry pancakes with 21-spice, house-made sausage patties were on the menu. It was a fun food game to try to identify the spices. No matter the breakfast, it provides plenty of sustenance to get you through a morning of Ludington’s outdoor activities.
4. Guided Home Tours
As an overnight guest, after breakfast, I had the opportunity for a guided tour. Jenna Simpler pointed out many historical details you might miss if you’re exploring yourself. Since Warren was a lumber baron, each of the main rooms showcases stunning woodwork with different types and styles of wood. For example, the front hall and grand staircase feature red oak, the front parlor cherry, the conservatory mahogany, the dining room American sycamore, and the library black walnut.
The Cartiers owned a home and wintered in Fort Myers, Florida, where their circle of friends included Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone. Warren got some of his home inspiration from Edison. Only 3 percent of the homes in the United States had electricity at that time. The light fixtures were double plumbed for both gas and electricity, where they made gas to power the lights in the basement. Today, the mansion still has the original light fixtures.
Other interesting details are the original wallpaper, Warren’s name printed on the face of the grandfather clock, and hooks that the family used to hang drapes in the winter to separate the front hall and parlor. The drapes kept the parlor warmer during the cold winter months.
The home’s exterior features bricks imported from France via Ludington’s Harbor.
5. The Carriage House
The Carriage House was once home to a couple of horses and a cow, and then Kate’s 1917 Detroit electric car. In 2021, the Simplers turned the Carriage House into four additional rooms, where the Edison Suite is ADA-accessible. While the stairs in a historic home may be daunting for some, you can still enjoy Cartier Mansion even if you require an accessible room.
In keeping with the equestrian theme, I particularly like the Stable Suite. They snuggled the king-size bed into the horse stalls and created a sitting area with a fireplace from the tack room. The luxury bathroom with heated floors and a walk-in shower was once the cow stall. How fun is that?
6. It’s Dog Friendly
For those staying in the Carriage House, they offer dog-friendly lodgings. Since this is a historic property, dogs aren’t allowed in the mansion. They do offer Ruby’s Wagaway Package for $50 a day. The package includes a doggie toy, treats, a clean-up bag, towel, and food bowls. See their pet policy. The Simplers donate all money collected for this package to the Mason County Mutts.
7. Local Volunteer Experiences
The Simplers believe that experiences are vital ingredients when planning a great vacation. Their tagline, “Stay on Purpose, Make Your Mark,” helps those who want give-back experiences as part of their vacation. They will arrange a volunteer experience with one of their three local partners at your request. Three hours is the minimum required volunteer hours; however, you can volunteer for additional hours.
You can be a lighthouse keeper with the Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association. They oversee the maintenance and restoration of four area lighthouses, Big Sable Point Lighthouse, Little Sable Point Lighthouse, Ludington North Breakwater Lighthouse, and the White River Light Station.
No matter your skill level, you can volunteer at the local Habitat for Humanity organization, where you can help elderly homeowners with small cosmetic projects, such as yard work, landscaping, and painting. Another option is working on an upscale piece for the organization to sell in their ReStore shop.
Another opportunity is helping at the Lakeshore Food Club, where low-to-moderate-income homes increase their food security and manage their food choices in a grocery store-style environment.
After your volunteer hours, return to Cartier Mansion, where you can rest up for an afternoon on the beach or night on the town.
Pro Tip: Ludington offers year-round fun. While I love to visit in the summer when the beaches are in full swing, a Valentine’s weekend getaway is an excellent time for those who enjoy winter sports.